Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (MAVA) is administered by the National Park Service, which is responsible for the creation, maintenance, and accuracy of the website. Like all National Park Service sites, MAVA’s website conforms to the strict requirements of the National Park Service’s online publications. Included on the website is a virtual tour of the home, Lindenwald, which departs dramatically from the standards consistent of other National Park Service websites. Due to this departure the context, form, and media require investigation and review.
The virtual tour of Lindenwald is directed to potential visitors and those who are unable to travel to a remote area of upstate New York. The tour seeks to provide visitors with the ability to glimpse the life Martin Van Buren lived and the community he surrounded himself with. Rather than retell a litany of facts the tour uses images of the home, Van Buren’s family, and artifacts to enable visitors to imagine life in another time. Each room is used to tell the story of Van Buren’s life after his presidential term. In this way, visitors will conclude the tour seeing this famous historical figure as a real person rather than a mythical icon. The information in the tour also enables visitors to learn more able life in Antebellum America.
The site’s framework departs dramatically from the traditional National Park Service layout. Rather than the typical green, brown, and white the visitor is greeted by a dark black background and gold lettering. The dramatic difference between the official site and virtual tour makes it more appealing and inviting. Visitors can click through the photos which are accompanied by descriptions of the room and their place in the Van Buren household. The tour includes larger full views of the room in addition to close ups of particular objects and sections within the room. In the bottom right corner of the site, is a plan of each floor. As the visitor scans through the photos a dot moves throughout the floor plan to orient visitors within the home.
The layout of the site is extremely accessible to the general public and easy to use. Even someone with scant knowledge of computers and the internet would be able to navigate the virtual tour. The quality of the pictures, the length of the text, and dimensions of the font provide the only real problems. The most obvious problem with the virtual tour is the size and color of the font. Each description is written in small white text on a black background. Someone with poor eye sight would have a difficult time reading the descriptions due to the size of the font. In addition the subheadings should be larger to distinguish the rooms being explained. The font color should also be changed, since the combination of small font and color make it hard to clearly see the text on the screen.
The length of text used to describe each room and its placement among the pictures constitutes another problem. The descriptions for each room are lengthy and remained static for as many as four pictures per room. The length of the paragraphs could be off putting for some visitors to the site. Instead, MAVA should chunk their writing into small components and stagger it across the multiple pictures they have for each room. This would be extremely helpful for close up pictures of particular objects. The quality of some of the pictures could also be improved. Some pictures are awkwardly cropped or magnified. For example in one of the pictures for the entrance, the door is cropped to reveal the middle. The entire frame of the door is missing and the description provided does not reveal the motives. Picture clarity would provide better clarity for visitors to the website and help them understand the significance of the door.
The virtual tour of Martin Van Buren’s Lindenwald provides visitors with a chance to see the home from any computer screen. Since the site is produced by the National Park Service, the virtual tour is guaranteed to remain online for an extended period of time. In order to provide the public with a more engaging experience, the Park should improve its paragraph style and picture quality. This will increase visitation for their virtual tour and even increase visitation to the National Park.
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